Document Ranking with a Pretrained Sequence-to-Sequence Model

This work proposes a novel adaptation of a pretrained sequence-to-sequence model to the task of document ranking. Our approach is fundamentally different from a commonly-adopted classification-based formulation of ranking, based on encoder-only pretrained transformer architectures such as BERT. We show how a sequence-to-sequence model can be trained to generate relevance labels as "target words", and how the underlying logits of these target words can be interpreted as relevance probabilities for ranking. On the popular MS MARCO passage ranking task, experimental results show that our approach is at least on par with previous classification-based models and can surpass them with larger, more-recent models. On the test collection from the TREC 2004 Robust Track, we demonstrate a zero-shot transfer-based approach that outperforms previous state-of-the-art models requiring in-dataset cross-validation. Furthermore, we find that our approach significantly outperforms an encoder-only model in a data-poor regime (i.e., with few training examples). We investigate this observation further by varying target words to probe the model's use of latent knowledge.

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Task Dataset Model Metric Name Metric Value Global Rank Result Benchmark
Ad-Hoc Information Retrieval TREC Robust04 monoT5-3B (zero-shot) MAP 0.3876 # 1
P@20 0.5165 # 1
nDCG@20 0.6091 # 1